"...antha lan duvthaaaaa free"
A cheer went up from the hundred or so fans at Riglee as the
last strains died out and our Sox took the field. I was so
excited to be a part of them for the first time; opening day
and my birthday. I was only seven when the team got started
the year before, and my folks wouldn't let me make the trip
to the big city to see this new
baseball craze everyone was
talking about. But a traveler had stayed with us for a spell
and told us all about it: the spectacle, the odd rules, the
rivalry that had sprung up among the five teams that had
been formed in the larger towns near Chy Town.
Mr. Ott had actually been in the capital when the annual
Time Vault opening had occurred. After the odd assortment of
amazingly useful and amazingly trivial (at least as
far as anyone could tell) gifts that had come out in the preceding
years, no one speculated anymore about what might be next.
The small balls, asymmetric sticks and the rest of the
paraphernalia had everybody baffled. There were some
small pictures of people carrying such a stick
on their shoulder,
or wearing one of the huge gloves (on only one hand), that
didn't help, and the year's puzzle probably would have been
relegated to the trivial pile, were it not for Vic's
realization that the big black disc with the hole in the
middle appeared to match the mysterious machine
previous year's Vault.
He found that cranking the handle with the
disk mounted on the machine's spindle was much more
productive. Sound poured forth from the horn, and the lucky
few who were crowded around Vic and The Mayor
were the first to hear
the voices from the long dead past: the description of the
First Half of a Twinight Double Header. Of course, they
couldn't make left or right of it at the time.
Fortunately, by the time Mr. Ott left town, they'd pretty
much figured out the game (we think) and, just as luckily for
me, (forgive me, Mennon) his wagon broke a wheel as he was
passing through town, and he was stuck for four days until
he could get another one. He
spent the time telling us about
baseball, pantomimed the roles of the pitcher and batter,
and I memorized the ritual chant that was performed before
We had a spare room, and he was paying with gold nuggets, so
he was welcome to stay as long as he wanted. I noticed a
hole in the elbow of his jerkin and patched it up. I told
him it wasn't necessary, but he insisted on giving me a
small ancient coin. It said "2nd United States" and "10 grams
Ag". Wow! I darned some of his socks too, but stuffed them
in the bottom of his bag so he wouldn't see.
And now, here I was! On Opening Day! While I'd been in my
reverie, the visiting Tigers had gone down in order, and
Casey was at the bat for the home team. They'd given that
name to their best hitter from the inaugural season, but he
opened the second with a weak grounder to first. That was
followed by a pop-up caught by the catcher who tagged the
batter for a double play, and that was that.
Mr. Ott had told us that innings could be unexciting, and
sometimes whole games, but not too often. Hopefully it would
pick up, but regardless I was enjoying
my day at the park!
There was the vendor! But I knew what I wanted. "Gimme a
dog!" All the ceremony surrounding the pastime from the past
had even brought forth some new foods. The stands weren't
holding the tens of thousands of people that supposedly their
namesake had, and he easily could have walked over and
handed it to me, but he tossed me my food as the record
indicated it was sometimes done.
The next three innings saw two singles and a double for us,
and one single for the Tigers. The first Tiger up in the
top of the fifth was struck out. While the doctor was
attending to him, a young man wearing a Sox hat approached.
My friend Samuel seemed to be trying to suppress a smile.
The man asked me, "Are you Nonny?"
I admitted as much.
"Would you please accompany me?"
He ushered me to the raised shack located right behind home
plate. He opened the door and motioned me in, and then left.
There, watching the game, was the biggest man I'd ever seen;
at his side was an elegant woman dressed in shimmering
silks. The man stood and stretched out his hand toward me,
while his voice boomed "Nonny! I hear it's your birthday, and
your first baseball game. Come sit and watch the game with
us. I'm Ted, owner of the White Sox,
and this is my wife, Alice."
I curtsied and stammered out a "Very nice to meet you." I
sat on the stool next to Alice and gawked at the most
luxurious surroundings I'd seen in my life. I caught myself
and closed my gaping mouth, then was helped back to earth by a
foul ball hitting the screen in front of us. Alice and I
both flinched, and it helped me to remember that they were
just regular folks. Well, almost.
Alice caught me peering at the corsage sticking to her
breast through no apparent means. "Do you like the flower?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am. But what's really intriguing me is
stays on your dress. I don't see any…"
"Let me show you, dear." She fussed with it for a moment,
then it came away in her left hand. She held her right up
and I could see the delicate, almost invisible needle she
Compared to that, the needles I used at home were crude.
They had been laboriously tapered and polished from obsidian
by my grandfather and handed down from his wife to my mother
and would some day be mine. Whenever I used them, I had to
show my mother my proposed work, which had to be done in the
same room where the needles were stored in a rough oak box
with an otter pelt lining inside. They were one of my
family's treasures and a part of our livelihood, but Alice
handled that magnificent silver instrument with the ignorant
casualness of a dog picking up a rib of the finest
elk fallen from the barbeque.
Alice looked a bit miffed that it was the needle that held
my gaze, rather than the flower it held to the dress, or the
dress itself, so I explained my interest.
"My mother is the seamstress of our village, and I'm her
apprentice. My mind boggles at the work we could do with
"Really? I didn't realize they were that special. They were
in last year's Time Vault, along with this dress, in fact.
Ted, why don't we give Nonny those needles for her birthday?
It sounds like she could put them to fine use."
Ted, who'd been listening with only half an ear while
watching the game, appeared to be playing back the last few
moments of conversation in his head. "Oh, sure! Great idea."
We all returned to the game. It was the end of the seventh
inning, the Tigers with eight runs and us one behind. Ted
got up and motioned me to accompany him. "Let's go down and
you can meet the players." Apparently it was routine for the
owner to walk down and greet the players at this point.
They were all very friendly, except the pitcher, who was
sitting on the far end of the bench. Ted took the game ball
from Coach Bunting and examined it. He didn't look too happy.
The umpire called "Play ball!" and we returned to the luxury
box, where Alice met us with some delicious finger
sandwiches that she had made while we were out.
The eighth inning saw one single for each team, but no runs.
The Tigers did nothing in the top of the ninth.
The Sox apparently just had a group vision of how they
felt finishing last the previous year. The leadoff hitter
doubled on a grounder through the heretofore unrecognized
hole in the third baseman's glove, and was advanced to third by
the next batter, who didn't beat the throw to first.
Casey was up next. He swung with all his might at the fresh
reliever's fastball. The crowd came to their feet roaring,
as the ball meteored off to right field. It looked like the
game was over. But the first base referee was waving his
arms from right field. He trotted in to home plate carrying
the ball, and showed the ball to the umpire. Casey, standing
at the plate, was sent back to third, the play being ruled a
ground rule triple. The opposing coaches
were walking out to
the plate. Ted got up to go join them, angrily saying "I
told him not to hit like that" followed by some other words I
pretended not to hear.
I asked Alice what was going on. She explained.
"The baseballs they use in official games come from the Time
Vault. They're far superior to the ones we make ourselves,
but if you hit them really hard and catch one just right, the
seam can split and the leather shell can come off. They
stopped the play because the right fielder claimed the ball
was too damaged to throw. The umpire agreed and called a
timeout. The problem is, each team got twelve balls from the
Vault, and the home team has to supply the balls for each
game. If they can't, the game is forfeit.
"Last year, Ted decided to use a maximum of two balls each season,
and here we are on opening day with one damaged already. Ted
won't want to bring out another one, but — well, here we
are with the winning run on third; after that season we had
last year, it sure would be good to start this one with a
"I'll bet I could —" I blurted out, then remembered my
manners. "I mean, I think I may be able to help, Ma'am, if you'll
lend me that needle." "Oh, certainly, child." While she
stepped to the screen and called down to Ted to wait for me,
I was running down toward the gate onto the field, all the
more awkwardly for holding the marvelous tool clasped in
both hands. Time seemed to have slowed, as I watched one
foot after the other slowly sink to the ground, and feeling
my hair brush my neck as it
slowly bounced from side to side.
The sounds of the crowd had decayed to silence.
Somehow I finally reached home plate. Ted handed me the
ball, and I sat on my heels, cradled it in my lap and
inspected it. I had not had the opportunity to see an
undamaged one, but it was clear what needed to be done. I
stuffed the batting back in and massaged it around until it
looked spherical again, then pulled the leather closed.
I worried a bit of yarn from my sock and tore it off about
two fingers from the end, and with ten loose loops repaired the
rent. A quite serviceable job, I thought to myself, and
returned the ball to Ted. He looked amazed. He handed the
ball over to the White Sox coach with a threatening-sounding
"Be careful with it" and nodded to the umpire. "Let's
continue" he told him, then took my hand in his and walked
me back to his box. This time I could definitely hear the
cheers and applause of the crowd.
As the coach returned to the bench, he waylaid the batter
walking to the plate and whispered something to him. The
batter looked puzzled and the coach whispered again, then
resumed his trek off the field.
Play resumed and the crowd settled down. There were murmurs
as the batter watched one pitch, then another, go by. With two
strikes, he liked the look of the next pitch, but instead of
swinging, he held the bat at both ends out in front of him
and just let the ball hit it. It bounced off, hit the ground
about six feet out and rolled slowly toward the dumbfounded
pitcher. The catcher finally got his wits about him,
waddled out to pick it up, and threw to first. The batter
was tagged out, but not before Casey crossed the plate from
third and scored the winning run!
The fans went wild; Ted and Alice both hugged me. After the
commotion died down and Ted had gone down to congratulate
his team, he and Alice took me and Samuel to dinner. There,
Ted mused about having me move to the City and join the
team. Mother certainly wouldn't allow that, but regardless,
it was a birthday to remember!